Melissa Breen in the Stawell Gift. Photo: Goss/www.licoricegallery.com
Canberra athletics coach Matt Beckenham says he must stop playing ‘‘Russian roulette’’ with sprinter Melissa Breen’s fitness, the pair now forced to gamble that the 21-year-old has already done enough to earn selection for the London Olympic Games.
Beckenham said counselling a tearful Breen on the phone after she missed the Olympic A-qualifies by just two-thousandths of a second in Japan had been one of the toughest moments of his coaching career.
While there is temptation to continue chasing the automatic qualifying time of 11.29 seconds for the 100 metres, Beckenham said he could no longer risk Breen’s long-term plans and her immediate fitness in pursuit of an Olympic berth.
Breen returned to Canberra from Japan yesterday evening and will now focus on a month-long training block instead of racing, leaving her Olympic fate in the hands of Australian selectors who have the discretionary power to add her to the national team at the final selection meeting next month.
Breen has continued to improve this season and has had two runs within two-hundredths of a second of the Olympic A-qualifier, but Beckenham said it was now time for her to recharge.
‘‘I’ve felt like for the past few weeks I’ve been playing a bit of Russian roulette [with Breen], you’re rolling the dice out every time hoping she will run faster,’’ Beckenham said.
‘‘But by pure nature, and being a former athlete, you know you reach a point where you start to tip yourself over, go too far and start running slower. I feel that time is now, even though everything says her last run was probably her best ever run.’’
Breen finished second to former 200m world champion Allyson Felix in a Japanese meeting on Sunday, finishing in 11.38 seconds in tough conditions.
The previous week, Breen had stopped the clock at 11.27, only for the time to be adjusted to 11.292 – then rounded up to 11.30 seconds.
Beckenham said it had been a mental triumph for Breen to have overcome that setback, but that the situation had been ‘‘tumultuous’’.
‘‘That was one of the hardest moments I’ve had coaching wise, there’s nothing you can do,’’ Beckenham said, revealing Breen had rung him in tears. ‘‘To have an athlete cross the line and see the time she’s been chasing for three months, then to be told it’s one-hundredth of a second outside – and as we know it was two-thousandth of a second. I felt helpless.
‘‘That’s been the compounding thing that’s been really hard for her every week, it’s like copping a punch in the guts and trying to step back up – kind of like Rocky. It’s only 12 weeks until the Olympics start now, so with Mel it’s as much a mental unwind as anything. She’s been up for every week since the start of the year, I think she’s missed one weekend of comp ... that’s probably been one of her most admirable qualities, that she’s been able to be so consistent week in and week out under all duress.’’
Breen will head to Europe in June regardless of whether she is given an Olympic spot, with the alternate focus on qualifying for next year’s world championships in Moscow.
‘‘We’re hoping that there may be some other big prize she might be running at as well, but we won’t know that until the final selectors meeting,’’ Beckenham said.